Five questions facing the Redskins

December, 11, 2013
12/11/13
7:35
AM ET
  1. Who will start at quarterback? This could serve as questions 1-5 because, really, not much else matters. At this point I’m inclined to believe that if Mike Shanahan opts for Kirk Cousins over Robert Griffin III, he’ll do so because he believes he gives him the best chance to win. This isn’t about saving a guy for the offseason. If a coach isn’t going to be around next year, he wants to win now. Griffin’s play in recent weeks, aside from the New York Giants game, has been bad. I’m a believer that if you consider Griffin the future you play him the next three games. But if, say, you’re headed out the door and want to make a statement then you pull him. From what I’ve heard, Shanahan did not have his mind made up when he originally opened this door. While it would seem once you start down this road you only have one choice, Shanahan did not feel that way.
  2. Will Shanahan last the rest of the season? Another question that’s tough to answer. But it could happen, especially if the Redskins play well Sunday. Owner Dan Snyder was not prepared to fire Shanahan before season’s end (if he was going to, that is), so all that happened last weekend caught him off guard. At that point it would have looked like an emotional decision, something Snyder does not want to make given his past. At this point, it’s hard to imagine either side – Snyder or Shanahan – wanting this to continue beyond the finale versus the Giants. There’s too much damage. It’s not just with Shanahan, but with his son and offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan. Griffin’s relationship with him is bad, too. For a young coordinator trying to become a head coach, it’s not good to have the quarterback against you. Also, you can bet that Snyder won’t ever want a father-son combination at coach-coordinator. Makes for messy situations, regardless of who’s at fault. Just think: Last year at this time the question was whether or not Kyle Shanahan would one day succeed his dad in Washington.
  3. How are players handling all of this? The young players are having a tough time because this is the first time they’ve dealt with anything like this. You also typically support the coach who brought you in as well. It’s weighing on the young guys. The veterans, though, understand how to deal with the noise, especially players who were here in Jim Zorn’s last season in 2009 when the situation was like this for an entire season – and the locker room was worse. But you can see the frustration in some of them. Receiver Pierre Garcon, for example, has resorted to short answers to limit what he might say out of frustration. The offseason can’t come soon enough for all of them.
  4. Who else might get pulled? Here’s the thing: Why protect just Griffin if that, indeed, is the reasoning? Brian Orakpo tore his pectoral muscles at the end of the 2011 season and early in 2012. Why not rest him considering it’s an important offseason for him as well? I understand quarterback is the most important position. But I’m not sold that this is about anyone’s health. I go back and forth with the offensive line. I think with a more decisive quarterback you’d have fewer sacks. I also know that it’s hard to get to certain reads because the protection isn’t always there. So it looks like the only change that would take place is at quarterback.
  5. What’s at stake for Griffin? His reputation. It’s going to take more of a pounding if/when Shanahan is fired, especially because many players will be disappointed at their coach’s ouster. And the perception, real or not, will be that Griffin had something to do with it – directly or indirectly. Don’t forget, a lot of players know their situations will change dramatically with another coach. But there is a legitimate confidence in Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Griffin could recover because he’s talented and works hard. But he’ll need to produce for whoever comes in next. The interesting part is this: What happens if Cousins does play the final three games and the Redskins’ offense looks good? Even if a new coach comes to town that will be a topic inside and outside the locker room. Sure, that could boost Cousins’ trade value but what if the new coach likes him more? (Of course, the owner could still say, ‘So what.’)

John Keim

ESPN Washington Redskins reporter

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